Welcome to the Images Through The Door Blog. I started this blog with the thoughts of sharing some thoughts and musings, as well as information and data on upcoming shows, or tips about photography and where I have been lately. I welcome your comments and thoughts. Happy reading!
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Happiness....what is it exactly, and how does one find it?
This is a question likely many have asked at some time in our life and yet it seems that only a small percentage of people have found the answer. Why? While I doubt I can fully answer this in this short blog, I would like to give some thoughts that might transform your attention, and perhaps help you see how things get in the way of finding your happy place.
Do you carry assumptions to which you cannot let go? Do you hear yourself saying things like: I won't be able to do that. I'm not going to be able to talk to that person because they will never understand. We are from different cultures (religions, beliefs, backgrounds, political party, ethnicity, etc. etc.) and are completely different, and will never get along. These are thoughts that can be driven by fear, ignorance and lack of understanding. They block our potential to see, and limit our ability to let go of past assumptions, and lead us away from what might be a great and positive experience. Wars and conflicts are fought because each side holds onto assumptions that they will not get past, or long held beliefs about something or someone gone unchallenged and long beyond the desire or willingness to compromise or to understand. These assumptions block the path to happiness because they block our ability to be objective and open minded - it's easier to hold on to them than to challenge our own thoughts. Yet, this is exactly what we need to do.
Our assumptions move us towards conditioned responses when faced with an issue. We think we know the answer because "we have seen it before". Until we can recognize and unlearn these, we will continue to limit ourselves and others. We assume or infer something that may not even be true, and sabotage our own growth, learning and opportunity to discover something new. We lose key things that can help us reach the path to happiness - resilience, calm, and a compassionate connection to others.
It's not an easy thing to challenge your own long held assumptions - it takes strength and resolve, and an honest evaluation of yourself. It must be a clear and deep look, not a surface glance. And the first person with whom you must be gentle and compassionate is yourself. When we open our minds to our past experiences and feelings in an accepting manner, without labeling as good or bad, without judging those feelings, we can examine events or thoughts and then simply let them go. This can open our hearts and reconnect us with our dreams and wishes and perhaps to rediscover something that was lost or obscured. We must first find and give compassion and forgiveness to ourselves before we can extend it to others.
This, I believe, is a huge step that can guide us onto the path to happiness. When we learn compassion and give it more truly and freely, we get in touch with the better part of us. We start to consider how to relate to the world and accept things more easily, more graciously and with less stress. We see that feelings and even life itself is impermanent and fleeting and not as solid as we might have thought. We develop courage because we understand the truth of impermanence, the importance of this moment and our complete connection with our earth, and all its many inhabitants. Each time we move toward peace, compassion and understanding we affect everyone in the world. We become a better self and by so doing, step onto the path to happiness.
The other day I was in my kitchen cooking up some new recipes, and surveying the contents of my pantry. With the change my hubby and I had recently made in our diet, it looked a bit different from just a few months ago. Happily, as we made the transition, we were able to donate items to our local food bank, along with some extra items I bought, and share our now "off-limits" perishables to friends and neighbors.
As I considered this, I thought how lucky are we to be able to do this - to let go of things and give them to others. There are people in the world who have no idea when or where their next meal will come, and living here in the land of vast supermarkets and mega stores, it can be easy to forget that many of them live in our own country. We might remember when our local church or organization has a food drive, or clothing drive, but how about the rest of the year? We often don't give a second thought to stopping and treating ourselves to a latte, but do we hesitate to give someone on the street that same amount of money?
It is so easy to be caught up in the latest "thing" or think we really need something, even if just to keep up with those around us. But do we? How many of us have items in our closets that we haven't worn for at least a year? Or collections of shoes that are gathering dust? I know it's a challenge when you go to the store and all those new and shiny things call out to you! But instead of consumerism "consuming" us, could we consider letting go of some things and pay those forward to someone who could REALLY use them?
Giving is such a wonderful thing, and many people are excellent at donating, tithing, and volunteering time. They do it because they love what it gives back to them - a sense that they have done something, no matter how small, to make the world a better place. Giving is awesome because it lets us do something good, and has the potential to help someone who might be feeling that they are lost or forgotten.
So, dear friends, I am suggesting that the next time you are ready to clean out your garage, closet, pantry, house...that you check into local area nonprofit organizations and donate thoughtfully and generously. Pay it forward, and help a fellow person in need. Let go, and give!
After The Rain
Quite often in life, we find that our path that we have planned is not always the one we end up walking. We think we know our direction, then suddenly we're completely turned around heading off into some unchartered territory or to a place we to which we had not planned to go.
This can be scary and often quite daunting. Sometimes, even when we think about making a change, once we have done it, we find that there are more unforeseen things that come up than we had thought! How many times have your found yourself thinking "oh my gosh, I never thought that THIS would happen because of that!" These happenings can make the journey difficult, and often so challenging that we give up, move into avoidance tendencies or go to unhealthy places to look for ways to cope. And most of us have challenging moments happen more than once in our lives (both those we choose, and ones we might not) so learning how to find your way can help you keep on top of the waves and your head above the waters of stressful changes rather than being dragged down feeling lost and hopeless.
So how do you do that? How do you find your way in the dark ocean? Where's that life-raft?
I think there are many right answers - the one that might work for you may not be the one that works for everyone. Perhaps you find solace in prayer, or talking with friends and loved ones, walking in nature, meditation or yoga, or having a quiet moment away. These are all good and positive ways to deal with stress, and ones we need to seek when we find ourselves in crisis. We need to keep these fresh, through practice, so when we need the help we are able to use these practices naturally because we have used them during "normal" times. We need to seek what feeds our souls and our minds and gives us strength and health, and then repeat these so they become part of our psyche, easily called upon when needed and readily accessible.
We then are prepared and ready to meet the challenges and find our way. We will have things thrown in front of us, obstacles that will appear, and be able to meet them and continue on. We will understand that with challenge comes growth and learning because we can see it from a place of calm and peace. Our practice helps us find our way.
Recently I found this story, and I want to share it will you.
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were natures way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If we go through our lives without any obstacles, we would not be as strong as what we could have been.
So dear friends, seek and find your place of strength and calm, keep it as your refuge, and know that you are stronger by walking through the fire of challenge. This is how to find your way.
Blue Poppy Softness
We have lost a great American treasure with the recent death of Maya Angelou. She was a true poet, visionary and artist, and rightfully spoke out for the rights of others as well as asking questions that made us think about ourselves and our connections with others. She voiced her thoughts clearly and also with stories and metaphors that always contained truths and questions about people, life, relationships and nature. Her writings live on and will be a great treasure and legacy.
One of her quotes that always resounded with me was the following:
"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
I think about this quote because it can be applied to so many different things - when I am out photographing in nature, am I singing my own song, or am I simply imitating someone else's? Am I being true to my vision as an artist, or is it not clear to me in that moment? If I can speak to WHY something calls to me, and what I feel about it, then I know I am on the right track. It's the same in life, isn't it? Are we following our own voice and singing our own song, or are we simply part of the roar of the crowd?
It's important to look within ourselves and find our own song. Are we being true to it? Can we sing it clearly and without hesitation? If we cannot, why? We each have the responsibility to choose our own song, and by doing so, add to life our own valuable gift. We can benefit ourselves and others when we understand how fortunate we are to have a life that can be lived to help others, and to help them find their song as well. When we sing together in harmony and with compassion and peace, we lift up the universe and each other.
The Dalai Lama said:
"Every day think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life and I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts toward others, and I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."
This is his song, and one that we can all use as a call to develop ourselves, our songs, our lives. Sing them well, and make them yours, because they are your true treasure.
Blue Poppy Petals
I am sure you have heard the saying that "time flies when you're having fun", but what about when it is just that life is happening, with both fun, and not so fun things? It has been a bit more than a month since I posted my last blog entry. My life was busy, and did get a bit more complicated with the recent death of my father. I also stayed some time with my mom after the funeral to help her get past those first few tough weeks of new aloneness and life change, and dealing with what one has to do after a parent/husband passes away. It can be complicated to wade through all the layers of bureaucracy - especially with insurance companies and the government - so I was happy to be there to take some of that stress away from her. And strangely, it helped me through my own grief.
There's no book or instruction manual on what you have to do when someone dies. You end up sorting through papers and files, and contacting so many different places that you just hope that you have gotten to everything, and notified everywhere that needed to be told, and then just let it go and hope for the best. It all takes time....waiting on hold, sorting through personal papers and belongings, looking up where to call/send paperwork/get copies/gather information. It takes a lot of focus, especially when the person was not exactly, well, organized or prepared. I'm not sure Dad really thought about that toward the end - he was prepared mentally, and perhaps that was what he needed most. He chose how to use the time he had left, and he chose to commune with his faith, which was so very important to him. He just let the rest fall away.
What I know is that time is truly what we make of it, and how we use it, be it wisely or not. I respect time - because I don't know how much more I have.....none of us know. I work to use time positively, and for good, even if it's just doing laundry. We each have a choice on how we envision time and this determines how we interact with it. When lives are busy with errands, children, family, work, are we stressing through, pushing ourselves to the limit, or do we find and take a moment to breathe, relax, and notice the wind blowing through the trees as we go to our next meeting or workday or event? When we use a moment to take a deep breath and drop our obsession with time, we slow down our lives and take back control. Even though time still moves at the same pace, we can feel each moment exquisitely by just letting go, and flowing with the day. We will have more energy, more happiness because we let stressful things pass, letting them go instead of hanging on.
When we learn to let go and breathe and live in each day fully awake and aware, we flow with time and time flows with us. We no longer struggle against the day, but rather we flow with it like a river flows over rocks. We feel our connection, and honor it by taking time to meditate, pray, give thanks, and live fully with compassion and respect for all, every day and every moment. To do anything less would lessen our gift - the gift of time. Use this gift wisely and honor it well, my friends, and you be always be at peace. Blessings to you all.